Girlfriend by Todd Almond, Music & Lyrics by Matthew Sweet
Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Kitchen Theatre Company
Review by Olivia Ohlsten
Ah…the two person musical. Much easier to convince me to attend than a one-person play! Here we have Girlfriend written by Mark Almond with music & lyrics by Matthew Sweet. I hope their writing team name is Sweet Almond!
Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by this production. A very sweet show set in Nebraska in 1993. A time when people still spoke on the phone and comfortably sat on bean bag chairs. What a world.
The musical follows the summer romance of Mike, the friendly jock, and Will, without a social moniker. Mike controls the story and struggles with the conflict between self and others, namely his restrictive father and judgemental friends. There is never a climactic confrontation between them but a happy resolution occurs nonetheless.
Both Mike and Will (performed with playfulness by Woody White and Jonathan Melo, respectively) just graduated high school, and Mike will be reluctantly attending college in the fall while Will doesn’t have a plan. He made it through high school and that’s good enough for now! It’s not until summer draws to an end that the panic for the future sets in.
That limbo time between graduation and the fall when college starts is crucial to this
story. It is what draws Will & Mike together and pulls them apart.
Girlfriend is labelled an indie-pop musical and the beginning of every song reminded me of something I’d heard before but couldn’t quite place lending a familiarity to the music. The songs weren’t complex in lyrics or melody but they were a necessity for Will and Mike, and their self-expression. Often it’s said that when a person can’t express themselves through words, they will through song. That is the case for Will and Mike. The dialogue is crucial for moving the narrative along but the songs are where Mike and Will fall in love and come together against outside forces.
The themes of falling in love, loneliness, and being in the present are at the center of this story and make it so relatable.
I think both the costume and sound designs were done well. They fit with the story and were in communication with the overall energy of the show. To create a coherent experience the design elements need to speak to each other and the production. If there is a disconnect, it will be apparent and weaken the overall impact of the performance. I am ever so curious about the movie audio playing in the drive-in scenes. Sounds like an amazingly bad movie to see sometime!
I very much enjoyed the lighting design. The designer (Bridget Doyle) incorporated plain fluorescent lights, like you would see in an office or closet, but outfitted them with different colors and placed them at an angle over the stage. They joined colorful Christmas lights to create a playful and youthful energy to the production that complimented the electricity between Mike and Will.
I’d say my main concern and distraction was the scene design by Daniel Zimmerman. I recognize the time and energy that goes into the work and am not discounting it but I struggled to understand the choices. What I am referring to is the stage length wall featuring a skyline I presume to be somewhere near Alliance, Nebraska with a flat horizon and plenty of fluffy clouds. The mural was not brand new and was distressed in many places. Was this a billboard, on the side of a building or supposed to be the real skyline and give the audience a sense of the vast expanse of Nebraska and evoke loneliness and longing? I’m sure not everyone found it distracting and many probably simply saw it as beautiful. But it felt disconnected from the rest of the design aesthetic and the overall production. The energy was different with this feature. And maybe it was intentional! Maybe to represent a darker message that went further than the script indicated?
I often find fault with the written text or the actors’ performances in inhibiting the story in some way but I believe overall this production did a great job! The story was vibrant and uplifting, the acting was strong, and the design features colorful. It’s not a well known musical and I wouldn’t necessarily seek it out in the future but it was very…Sweet Almond. Perfect for the here and now.
Girlfriend will be performed at the Kitchen Theatre through September 30th. Running time: 80 minutes. Buy your tickets here!